Myth of Food Origin in Japanese Mythology (日本神話における食物起源神話)

This article describes myth of food origin in Japanese Mythology.

Descriptions of food origin in Japanese Mythology show the characteristics of the myth of Hainuwele that is commonly found in Southeast Asia. This myth indicates that the seeds of food were produced by killing a god that produces food from excretions.

There are also descriptions that a god with seeds of food came down from the heaven. This myth resembles to the myth of Demeter in Greece.

Hainuwele-type myth
Ogetsuhime and Susanoo
In "Kojiki" (The Records of Ancient Matters), this type of myth is found in a tale that Susanoo (Takehaya Susano no Mikoto) who was expelled from the Plain of High Heaven after Iwato-gakure (the hiding of Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess, in the heavenly rock cave), asked for food from Ogetsuhime (Ogetsuhime no kami), a deity of grains.

Ogetsuhime produced various foodstuffs from her mouth, nose, and rectum, preparing them and offering them to Susanoo. But Susannoo had a peep at that situation and incensed that she had presented foods taken out of her body in a filthy way, so Susanoo killed Ogetsuhime.

Various grains and seeds then appeared from her corpse. Products include silkworms from her head, rice from her eyes, millet from her ears, red beans from her nose, barley from her genitals, and soybeans from her rectum. Kamimusubi (Kamimusuhimioya no mikoto) used the resulting grains as seeds for planting.

Ukemochi and Tsukuyomi
In "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), a similar myth called the myth of Ukemochi no kami and Tsukuyomi is found in an alternate writing in the 11th section of Kamiumi (bearing gods between Izanagi and Izanami) section.

Amaterasu ordered Tsukuyomi to watch over a deity called Ukemochi in Ashihara no nakatsukuni (Literally, "Central Land of Reed Plains", which refers to the human world). Tsukuyomi visited Ukemochi who then treated Tsukuyomi by serving rice, fishes, and fur animals that were produced from her mouth. Incensed that the foods were filthy, Tsukuyomi slew Ukemochi. On hearing the news, Amaterasu was angered and said that she didn't want to see him anymore. That is why the sun and the moon appear separately during the day and at night.

Amaterasu sent Amenokumahito to Ukemochi, who had already been dead. Various grains appeared from Ukemochi's corpse, including cows and horses from her head, millet from her forehead, silkworms from her eyebrows, Japanese millet from her eyes, rice from her abdomen, and barley, red beans and soybeans from her genitals. Amenokumahito took them all to Amaterasu, who was pleased and used the grains as seeds for planting in the fields because these were indispensable foods for people.

In an alternate writing in the second section of the Kamiumi in Nihonshoki, there is a tale that Wakumusubi who was born of the deity of fire Kagutsuchi and the deity of earth Haniyamahime whom Izanami gave birth immediately before she died, produced silkworm and mulberry from her head and five grains inside her navel. There is no description whether Wakumusubi died (was killed) or not, but this tale falls into the category of Hainuwele myth.

Demeter-type myth
In an alternate writing in the second section of the Tenson Korin (descent of the heavenly grandchild) in Nihonshoki, Amaterasu gave a rice ear in the plain of high heaven to Ame no Oshihomimi, and he gave it to Ninigi who was born while Oshihomimi was falling from heaven, and went back to the heaven.

Hyuga-no-kuni Fudoki Itsubun (unknown description of regional climate, culture, etc. of Hyuga Province) describes that Ninigi fallen from the heaven with rice in the husk threw them about on the ground.

According to a myth in Izawanomiya, rice in Japan was brought by Amaterasu from divine rice field in the itsuki in the plain of high heaven.

According to an alternate writing in the fourth section that depicts extermination of Yamata no Orochi (eight forked great serpent) in Nihonshoki, Susanoo who was banished from the Plain of High Heaven descended to the Korean Kingdom of Silla, but he said he didn't want to be there and moved to Izumo. A child of Susanoo, Isotakeru brought some tree seeds, but he did not plant them to the Korean kingdom of Silla and instead he sowed the seeds throughout Oyashima-guni (Japan, meaning Eight Great Islands), which became the land of forests.

Although it is not the same as the myth described above, in Greece, the ear of wheat (Spica) in the hand of the Virgin (Demeter) is called the star of wheat. In Japan, Arcturus in the Bootes is called the star of wheat. Each of them appears in the season when the crops of wheat are fully grown at the longitude, indicating that there was a common faith in the star for the harvest season in agriculture.

Myth in Jomon Period
A mythologist Atsuhiko YOSHIDA paid his attention to the fact that the majority of earthen figures made during the mid Jomon Period depict females like earth mother and have destroyed. Yoshida thought that people in Jomon Period reproduced the myth of 'earth mother who was killed and dismembered but useful things appeared from the parts of her body' by destroying and dismembering earthen figures that were symbols of goddess. If this theory were true, people throughout Japan in the mid Jomon Period had already been familiar with the Hainuwele-type myth and cultivation of potatoes (or five grains).

[Original Japanese]